United Students Against Sweatshops battle Co-op to change apparel use


Yaguang Zhu

Sydney Dwoskin, international relations and global studies junior explains the new UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition campaign focused on the University Co-Op.

David Maly

Members of United Students Against Sweatshops showed Wednesday they are willing to do anything to avoid wearing apparel made in a sweatshop, even if it means wearing almost nothing at all.

A few members of the organization gathered in their underwear on the West Mall on Wednesday afternoon to collect signatures for a petition asking the administrators of the University Co-op to purchase $250,000 worth of apparel from Alta Gracia, an apparel factory in the Dominican Republic.

Alta Gracia is an example of a factory with fair working conditions in an underdeveloped country and the purchase would show that the University Co-op supports those fair conditions, said Jessica Alvarenga, a geography junior and USAS member. “The Co-op would be be living up to UT’s motto of transforming lives for the betterment of society, as that is exactly what Alta Gracia has done.”

She said USAS members collected about 360 signatures and will be continuing the same efforts tomorrow.

Alvarenga said although the apparel the University Co-op carries now is all made in factories overseen by the Workers Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors the working conditions in factories all over the world, Alta Gracia differs from many of those factories because of its open door policy. She said the policy allows for inspectors from the Workers Rights Consortium to inspect the factory
without notice.

Alvarenga said her organization would like to see that same policy and other policies at Alta Gracia that provide for a fair working environment implemented in factories all over
the world.

Alvarenga traveled with Sydney Dwoskin, an international relations and global studies junior and USAS member, to Alta Gracia last summer.

Dwoskin said she was amazed at how well the factory was run and the positive effect that had on the workers and their community as a result.

Dwoskin said the organization will meet Monday with George Mitchell, University Co-op president and CEO.

Alvarenga said the University Co-op has not told the organization its stance but is interested in discussing the matter.

Representatives from the University Co-op declined to comment until after Monday’s meeting.

USAS members also led a protest in their underwear last spring in an effort to get the University to join the Worker Rights Consortium, a goal that was achieved last summer.

Eighteen members of the USAS organization were arrested last spring for participating in a sit-in at University President William Powers Jr.’s office as part of their effort to get the University to join the Worker Rights Consortuim.

Printed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 as: Organization petitions Co-op for apparel use

Members of USAS said the sit-in was done as a last resort after years of trying to convince the University to join the consortium. Alvarenga said in the case of this initiative with the University Co-op, USAS would again exhaust all other avenues before resorting to an illegal direct action effort, but it could happen again if the organization’s demands are not met.